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Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn (based on the comic book by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr.)
Stars: Aaron Johnson (Dave Lizewski / Kick-Ass), Nicolas Cage (Damon Macready / Big Daddy), Chloe Grace Moretz (Mindy Macready / Hit Girl), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Chris D’Amico / Red Mist), Mark Strong (Frank D’Amico), Lyndsy Fonseca (Katie Deauxma), Michael Rispoli (Big Joe), Garrett M. Brown (Mr. Lizewski), Clark Duke (Marty), Evan Peters (Todd)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2010
Country: U.S.
Kick-Ass Where, oh where to start with Kick-Ass? As a film that aggressively defies summary (not to mention logic, coherence, or taste), it feels like an exercise in futility to describe it, much less critically analyze it. Yet, at the same time, it demands your attention, hyperactively asserting its presence and marking its terrain as a simultaneous deconstruction of comic-book superheroism and perhaps the ultimate celebration of the very idea of superheroes. We might start by noting that it is very much a product of its era, marked by the ascension of digital effects not just visually, but also narratively and tonally, as it hop-skips around barely strung together storylines and leaps from tone to tone like an ADD-addled teenager surfing the Internet. No one moment is like any others, and for some this will prove simply exhausting, while for others it will be positively exhilarating.

A brief sketch of what happens in the movie: The nominal hero, who also provides the sardonic voice-over narration, is an ordinary, geeky teenager named Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson). While he boasts no extraordinary gifts or talents, he does seem to have ambition in spades, which is why he comes up with the idea of turning himself into a superhero after noting that, despite the omnipresence of superheroes in pop culture, no one tries to follow in their footsteps (as he will learn, for good reason ...). Donning a green wet suit and matching ninja-esque mask, he renames himself Kick-Ass and attempts to fight crime despite having no experience, no skills, and no physical attributes to speak of. It is therefore not entirely surprising that he spends most of his time getting his ass kicked, rather than kicking ass, as his name would suggest (although his getting pummeled in a convenience store parking lot turns him into a viral video sensation, suggesting that the dim-bulb public is more infatuated with the absurd than the truly heroic).

He does inspire others, though, particularly to an older geek version of himself named Damon Macready (Nicolas Cage), who lays claim to some serious survival skills, not to mention a home arsenal that would make a third-world dictator envious. Damon has also been training his 11-year-old daughter Mindy (Chloe Grace) in the ways of violence (when we are first introduced to them, Damon is shooting Mindy in the chest while she wears a bullet-proof vest so she will know what it feels like to be shot), and together they become their own superhero team: Big Daddy and Hit Girl. If the idea of an 11-year-old girl being a superhero seems ludicrous, this is probably not the movie for you. If the idea of an 11-year-old girl being a superhero by wielding large bladed weapons with which she graphically hacks and slices apart her enemies, this is definitely not the movie for you.

With all these aspiring superheroes, there has to be a villain, and we get a fairly mundane bad guy in Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), your standard-issue drug kingpin who does serious bodily harm to anyone who gets in his way. Frank’s son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), is one of Dave’s classmates, although no one can get to know him because he is constantly surrounded by bodyguards. It is probably just as well, though, since Chris is a bit of a bad seed in the making, which is why when he dons a mask and cape and names himself Red Mist, it is not for good, but rather to lure Kick-Ass and the others into his father’s clutches. If the idea of the erstwhile McLovin playing an aspiring villain seems like a joke, Mintz-Plasse’s performance might just be something of a revelation, as he nails the tricky gray area between the pathetic and the loathsome, constantly teasing us with the idea that he might turn out to be a good guy even though he obviously aspires to his father’s criminal throne.

Working from the comic book series by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr., British director and former Guy Ritchie producer Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) pulls no punches in his gleefully profane depictions of superheroic mayhem, opting for a Hong Kong-influenced barrage of graphic violence and black comedy that constantly suggests a truly subversive sense of satire without actually achieving a coherent critique of anything other than coherence itself. One minute he’s giving us bodily trauma of the Looney Tunes variety (the only thing missing are the wacky sound effects), and the next he’s lured us into a dark sequence in which two major characters are being tortured live on the Internet in a way that is all too eerily reminiscent of terroristic beheading videos. The fact that Vaughn and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman (with whom he collaborated on Stardust) are able to balance so many wildly disparate subplots (which also involve Dave’s infatuation with Lyndsy Fonseca’s high school cutie, who he gets close to by pretending to be her gay BFF) is a minor miracle, even though they never manage to make it feel particularly coherent. They’re just throwing everything they can at the screen, hoping that some of it sticks, and while quite a bit of it slides off and splats on the floor, it’s still a ridiculously entertaining exercise in geek wish fulfillment.

Overall Rating: (3)

Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

All images copyright © Lionsgate

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